Tapping the magnificent maple

outsideNaturalist Mike Dunker gave a presentation at Wild River State Park March 12 on how to tap maple trees for syrup.
In 1978, maple tree tapping became open to the public at Wild River State Park. Nineteen states, including Minnesota, are responsible for all of the maple syrup made in the U.S.
“They have maple trees down in Virginia and South Carolina, but they do not get maple sap because of the weather,” Dunker said. “What you need is temperatures that drop below freezing at night and are above freezing during the day.”
There are six types of maple trees in Minnesota: red, black, silver, box elder, mountain and sugar. All produce sap except the mountain maple, and the sugar maple produces the most sap in the state.
“You probably have everything you need to tap a maple tree in your home already,” Dunker said.
Here is a list of what you would need:
• Drill.
• Drill bit (size of spile).
• Spile.
• Hydrogen peroxide (optional).
• Hammer.
• Tubing (optional).
• Bucket with lid.
• Strainer.
• Kettle.
• Stove.
• Candy thermometer (optional).
• Felt or coffee filters.
• Jars with sealable lids.
“To tap the trees, you need to start with a tree that is at least 10 inches,” Dunker said. “If you have a tree that is 15-16 inches, you can use two taps, and if you have a tree over 20 inches, you can use three. You don’t want to go over four taps.”
Drill a hole in the tree 2 to 4 feet from the ground with a slight upward angle. Drill about 3 inches deep and use a hammer to lightly tap the spile, a small spigot, into the hole. You can use a hose to keep the sap from blowing in the wind. Your container should have a lid on it to keep out the rain, snow and other debris. Empty containers once a day and store sap in a cool place away from any direct sunlight. You should have at least 10 gallons of sap before you begin the evaporating process.
To make syrup from the sap, you need to pour your sap into a large boiling pan. It is recommended that you boil outside. As the water boils off, you should add more sap a little at a time. As the sap darkens, you can transfer to a smaller pan and continue boiling until the temperature reaches 219 degrees. That is when the syrup is done. Strain the syrup twice through coffee filters or felt, pour into jars and refrigerate.

Paul Boelk, a sixth- grader at North Branch Middle School, hammers his spile in a maple tree at Wild River State Park March 12.
Paul Boelk, a sixth- grader at North Branch Middle School, hammers his spile in a maple tree at Wild River State Park March 12.

“This year has been a big confusion for a lot of maple syrupers because of the weather,” Dunker said. “One of our red maple trees here at the park has begun to bud twice already. So there was a big concern that maybe we missed our season.”
According to Dunker, there is still enough time to tap this year. But once the maple trees start to bud, the season is over.
“We’ve been able to have a four-week season here,” he said. “This is what the real March Madness is.”

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